Friday, June 27, 2003  

Position Report

Magadan, Russia

posted by Shaun; | 6:46 AM


Magadan Photo Essay

Gallery of photos from a walk down to the sea of Magadan Old Town

posted by Shaun; | 6:46 AM


Leg 3 - Wait and Rest

Safe in a harbor far from the one we have just departed, we have arrived in Magadan, Far East Russia.

I am writing from within a snug and comfortable cafe of one of the main boulevard's lining the small city of Magadan on the Russian coast, drinking coffee, listening to George Michael's album Older after having just finished a challenging game of chess with Henning.

Moving back three days to our departure from Anchorage, the final day left the three of us scurrying around Pat and Dwayne's apartment, trying to recover from the night before whilst attempting to pack our belongings. My own aim in this was endeavoring to remove a number of belongings from my trip in an effort to lighten the load - not only for the weight purposes of the flight, but also to eliminate some of the extra baggage so the Russian roads would be a little easier to cross on my bike.

This is no mean feat in itself considering, every thing I own is on this bike, and if I foolishly throw away a belonging that I would need in the future, this would cost me money twice over in purchasing same said article.

Regardless of these seemingly small challenges we were packed and ready barely ten minutes before Dwayne showed up with the truck with which he had graciously offered to take us to the airport.

It was only that morning that the airline had informed us that our bikes would not be accompanying us on the trip due to the inclusion of a large tour group on the plane across the Bering Sea aboard the Tuplolov. This, in turn, would mean that we would have to wait another week in Magadan before our bikes could be delivered to us. Three days earlier we had spent a good apart of a morning taking the bikes apart and removing all the gas to make them safe for travel as well as minimizing the size as greatly as possible before unhappily giving them up to the shipping agents.

Even though this news ruffled some feathers in the group, I was content myself with the thought that this would allow some time to acclimatize to a vastly different culture and provide the opportunities to put the customs paperwork for the bikes to rest, learn some of the language as well as take care of supplies and any other odds and ends.

The flight passed quickly thanks to a fellow passenger Ingrid Visser and after the first stop in Petropavlovsk for the cruise ship passengers, this left only 5 passengers on the plane for the one hour flight onwards to Magadan.

Calming many days if not months of anxiety, both immigration and customs were a relative breeze, leaving us outside in the murky dusk of the arctic at 11pm braving the still active hordes of mosquitoes wondering what and where to go next.

Fortunately enough for us, after some further questions to the customs agents who were in turn eager to get home, we arranged a taxi ride to Magadan about 40 kilometers away following haggling the price downwards from $100 to $50.

The snow still covers much of the area, with the temperatures struggling to maintain anything resembling summer. Ones breath still lingers in the air leaving us to rely on the few articles of clothing we brought with us that can challenge these types of temperatures. A far sight different from some of the temperatures we know we can expect in many of the arid regions that we will shortly encounter.

After realizing that we were not the average tourist that inhabits this region with plenty of money to spare, our guides (which included the Custom Agent and ex soldier and the driver who was an ex-fighter pilot) took us from the opulent Magadan Hotel to a more meager dwelling not far away but still centrally located in Magadan. These rooms are a 10th of the price and more than comfortable for myself, paltry of amenities though they be.

The past couple of days have left us in a state of sloth, which I must say has been utterly enjoyable. The city is a quiet one and the pace measured, something that we have had to adapt to, a challenge that is not one that is undesirable. We have spent our time not only exploring the city, but learning through trial and error the Russian language (see Matt's Post On Language) starting with the Cyrillic alphabet.

For the all but a day of our time here in Magadan, the city has been the anvil under the hammer of constant drizzle which has given the metropolis it's own personality. One of dour colors and thoughts with barely a smile flashed our way. It was only yesterday, when the clouds parted to introduce a clear sky and a compassionate sun which seemed to shake the inhabitants from their stern slumber and in turn change the city into one with a vastly dissimilar persona.

The cafes produced chairs onto the broad streets, people shed the layers of clothing that cling to them the year round, sounds of Russian music filled the atmosphere to ensure that we knew where we were. Taking on the ambience of a unkempt European city, Magadan provided us with a full day of drinking beers, playing chess and sampling the local cuisine to full enjoyment. Magically our three dispositions changed for the better as well, as the thought of the cold harsh gray for riding accompaniment was not a pleasant one and this indeed did brighten the possibilities up.

Tomorrow, we are off to customs to collect our bikes, piece them together hope beyond hope that nothing is broken or missing from them. After which we will try to find the routeout of town towards our next destination - Yakutsk, about 3000 kilometers to the north and west.

Finally, to the right, a photo of the three of us whilst enjoying a bottle of fine wine kindly carried by Matt from a visit from Argentina in 1999 and gratefully enjoyed by the three of us and capturing the moment in our 640 Ruble ($20) a night guest room.

More pictures of Magadan

posted by Shaun; | 6:45 AM


Russian First Impressions

Posted by Matt

First impressions
Soulless, sterile apartment and office blocks punctuated by sections of the city dominated by drab hovels. Just as described in our cold war propaganda, which in some way was a relief following my loss of faith in the current U.S. administration's ability to accurately portray the world to us. I'm using the word "hovel" pointedly as that best describes these structures.

The old section of town, really just a collection of hovels and dirt roads near the sea reminds me somewhat of the slums in Latin America. Not as densely packed though, and completely lacking the riot of colors which provides a certain charm, or at least feeling of hope and joy, to the Latin shantytowns. There is a certain rusticness to that section, many of the structures have small gardens and I saw a couple of horses penned up.

The streets are often full of smartly dressed people hurrying about their business, but eerily quiet and dour. Its almost a shock to hear people conversing as they walk. Even the teenage girls walking arm in arm are barely whispering to each other if they speak at all. I've only heard one car honk and that was a feeble attempt at sound, more of a wheeze than the full throated getouttamyway I remember from L.A.

The service in the shops and restaurants is perfunctory, unless we're the only ones in the place, at which times we can occasionally get a smile or some cheer from the staff. This afternoon sitting in a cafe we were joking back and forth in our halting Russian with the two waitresses, but as soon as a few locals came in, their faces returned to stone. As with the quiet streets is this a culture of shyness and stoicism or a learned adaptation to soviet repression?

Very few of the shops and businesses seem purpose built. They are more like small apartments that were converted to their present use by their occupants. I wonder whether this will all seem as charming and fascinating by the end of the trip, or if its just the newness of it all that makes it seem so interesting. We did hear a folk song in one of the restaurants that I'm pretty sure was a ballad to "my Magadan." Whether he was singing wistfully or mockingly, I don't know.

posted by Shaun; | 6:44 AM


On Language (Posted by Matt)

On Language
Coming into this adventure I had resolved to learn some Russian. I bought a Berlitz guide and a CD Rom. Heck, I even spoke to the woman at the convenience store near my office about some language lessons. But, ever since I lost my round tuit, (I've really got to get a new one) I've had to wait to do things. No matter, I'm sure Henning and Shaun were diligently studying pa-roosky, besides everyone speaks English.

Oops, turns out all we had was the little Serbo-Croatian Henning had picked up in Bosnia and my few lessons from the book and CD Rom. To compound matters, there is a paucity of English speakers in Magadan. I had managed to learn the Cyrillic alphabet before arriving, so at least I wasn't illiterate, I just couldn't speak the language. Fortunately, there are a surprising number of cognates to French and English. Russian is an indo-european language, along with French and English, but I suspect the cause of the similarities has to do with the Russian nobility's fashion for all things French. The word for bread is klep, but it is purchased in a Magazhin and eaten in a Ristoran located in the tzentr of town near the teatro. Since the serfs weren't dining out, I suspect those words were imported with the concepts. Bread, being a staple of peasant life already had its word (though the style of loaf I bought today was called a "baton magadienski")

Thus with the ability to read the language, a fair amount of pointing, and the few words I had learned we've managed to eat shashlik (seasoned meat grilled on a skewer over an open flame), salat kalamar (hint its a "neptuyn" dish), buy akkumulatori (batterieski), vada, and of course vodka and pivo (beer).

The lessons are continuing apace, we're still not always sure what will turn up at the table, and the girl at the shop downstairs cringes whenever we come in, but by the time we leave eastern Europe, we should have Russian down.

posted by Shaun; | 6:43 AM


Ingrid Visser

Thirty Five thousand feet over the Bering Sea, we were nestled in relative comfort aboard an Air Magadan Tupolov Jet, sharing the plane with a large contingent of cruise ship Ecotourists.

I was fortunate to be sitting next to a most interesting neighbour - Ingrid Visser, the Wildlife guide and Zodiac driver of the Clipper Odyssey, which this group was flying to meet in Petropovlaska before making the cruise back to Alaska.

When not working fulltime on cruise ships for the other four months of each year, Ingrid is a Doctor of Cetology - one who studies whales and dolphins.

Living in the scenic northern New Zealand town of Tutakaka with her German Shepard Harry, Ingrid devotes her life and passions to studying the mammals that she has had a fascination with since as long as she can remember. A captivation that she aptly describes as stemming from within her soul.

Ingrid, it seems, lives a life of adventure that is closely related to her passion of the sea. When she was only 16, she and her father spent four years sailing from the relative safeties of New Zealand's green shores to more than 90 countries around the world aboard a 57 foot Steel Ketch named Wai-O-Tira. This was just the start of her journeys that has seen her travel and work to every continent in the world, with Antarctica being far and beyond her deep favorite with its stark landscapes and broad array of land and marine wildlife.

The four and a half hour flight passed quickly and without effort thanks to the many fascinating stories that Ingrid provided me. Narrative so remarkable and learned that she has been a feature of the Discovery Channel which has devoted a 1 hour documentary to her accomplishments called Killers I have Known. If it is anything like our conversation, I am more than sure that the program is one not to be missed.

Ingrids web site detailing more of her work can be found at

Hear Ingrid discuss the photo she took above

More people on the road . . .

posted by Shaun; | 1:52 AM

Tuesday, June 24, 2003  

Victor the bear killer

Before leaving Magadan, Henning and I had gone to the Jazz Port Cafe for dinner. We had just gotten our first course when Victor came over and in broken English introduced himself and explained that he had seen our bikes out at the airport where he now worked. After we finished our meal we joined him and his party at their table. A few vodkas later Victor launched into a wild and vivid story. Understand that his English wasn't that good, and our Russian even worse, so much of the story was told in pantomime.

As he charged about the restaurant Victor explained that he had been stationed on the Finnish border when he was in the army. While walking towards his post he was suddenly attacked by a large brown bear. He managed to get a few shots off from his AK 47 before it jammed. That wasn't enough however. The bear kept coming. Victor stood his ground, knowing that if he ran he would be pulled down. The bear charged him and grabbed him by the arm with his fierce jaws and clawed his stomach open. Victor happily showed us the scars to prove his story. But Victor was not to go down that easy. He was able to pull out his knife and stabbed the bear in the midsection. He kept cutting upwards until the bear died. He managed to crawl his way to his post to get medevaced. For which he was charged $3,000. To the right is a recreation of the epic battle.

Ever since then, Victor has had a deep hatred for bears. As he sketched out on a napkin, he became an avid bear hunter. His weapon of choice - a T-72 tank. He claims to have killed 7 more bears with a tank before leaving the service. Discuss this post

posted by matt; | 11:32 PM








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